''You write it yourself!''

Russian restaurants are offered to boost their TripAdvisor ratings on the threshold of the World Cup

''You write it yourself!'' Photo: RestaurantAnticaRoma

As there are few days left to the FIFA World Cup, host cities are making final preparations. Businesses such as restaurants are getting ready as well, and some of them even resort to fake reviews in order to increase their ratings and attract more foreign guests.

A Russian marketing agency has offered to help restaurants in cities hosting the World Cup use fake reviews to bump up ratings on the review site TripAdvisor, says Reuters. According to Bacon Agency, it can outwit TripAdvisor's algorithm for detecting fraudulent posts and publish reviews in foreign languages to attract fans from abroad.

''What can you do if no Serbs and no Swedes have ever been to your venue and left a review? You write it yourself!'' says the agency's brochure received by a restaurant in Yekaterinburg. A spot in TripAdvisor's top 10 list is offered for 35,000 rubles ($570). Fake reviews are supposed to be published from accounts with a ''backstory'' of earlier posts. The company intends to use different IP addresses, devices, browsers and operating systems to trick the algorithm.

When asked about the service, the agency claimed that it only wanted to act as the middleman between restaurants and freelancers posting fake reviews. ''We were just testing this niche because we see high demand. It's not because we're bad guys who came in and said, look, you've got to start swindling… All restaurants know that reviews are ordered, and many use this service,'' said Bacon Agency 's owner Roman Baldanov.

TripAdvisor opposes any attempt to manipulate its ranking. Photo: Travelarz

Although fake reviews can be often found on the Internet, such an obvious offer directly linked to an event is still rare. TripAdvisor states that the company opposes any attempt to manipulate a business' ranking. ''Our dedicated investigations team is proactive and extremely effective at catching those trying to solicit fake reviews for money.''

According to Baldanov, nobody has taken up his offer yet because the restaurants were already doing this themselves. A major event like the World Cup increases incentives to post such reviews, said Jeff Hancock from Stanford University, an expert in detecting fake reviews. ''Any time you start seeing reviews come in all at once, look sort of similar, have the same kind of language, then alarm bells should start going off,'' Hancock commented.

When Reuters inspected TripAdvisor's top 30 list for Kaliningrad, it found at least six restaurants that appeared to fit this description. However, the restaurants claim that all the reviews are real and are left by their customers. ''It's just we have a big loyalty system, a mobile phone app, and so on,'' said Peperonchino, a cafe in Kaliningrad that has recently soared from 28th place to 2nd on TripAdvisor's list.

By Anna Litvina